Why So Serious?


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Recently, Washington Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli canceled the web-series 'Mouthpiece Theater' after its hosts made a joke about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Bowing to pressure from an obscure organization called Action in the Media, the Washington Post reinforced the notion that any potentially offensive humor must result in a swift apology, perhaps even in resignation or firing. But since when is it criminal behavior to tell a joke, let alone offend someone? In a country that cherishes freedom of speech, when did it become a requirement to prescreen jokes to meet the approval of every available demographic?

The notion that the only appropriate jokes are those pre-approved by special interest groups would be laughable if it wasn't taken so seriously. In this most recent case, Dana Milbank, a columnist, and Chris Cillizza, a White House correspondent and blogger, lost their show after a woman's group, Action and the Media, complained that one of their jokes was 'sexist' and 'tasteless.' What did Action and the Media think was so terribly offensive? On the latest webisode of 'Mouthpiece Theater,' Milbank and Cillizza visually implied that President Obama would serve 'Mad Bitch Beer' to Hillary Clinton during a discussion about Obama's recent 'beer summit.'

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the purpose of the joke was to be offensive. Most viewers probably groaned'chuckled'and then moved on. Not the ladies at Action and the Media. They took action immediately, making sure that Milbank and Cillizza would be properly punished for daring to associate the secretary of state with a vulgar term for female dogs. They are perfectly within their rights to be as outraged as they want to be, of course, but the Washington Post commentators did nothing to warrant the cancellation of their show and the removal of the particular webisode in question. They should not have apologized.

By apologizing, as so many others have done in similar situations, Milbank and Cillizza strengthened the armies of the humorless and marched us one step into the icy grasp of the thought police.

The politically correct attack on humor wouldn't be so bothersome if not for two factors: its effectiveness and its history of double standards. I am often surprised at the swiftness of the capitulation of individuals targeted for their inappropriate sense of humor. I can understand why someone wouldn't want his or her name dragged through the mud, but each apology makes it so much easier the next time. Each firing and self effacement make the self-righteous even more convinced of their power. If the jokesters looked as lightly on themselves as the people they set out to offend, perhaps they would not wilt so easily under criticism. If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the fire'it would make it that much easier for the rest of us.

Most tellingly, groups like Action and the Media are very selective in regards to the people they attack. I wonder why the writers of 'Saturday Night Live' got a pass when they featured Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin in a mocking, feminist appeal to stop pointing out Hillary's 'cankles.' Could it be there is something political lurking behind this selective outrage? Surely you jest.


Selective outrage of the kind exhibited by groups like Action and the Media has become a tool to remove anyone who disagrees with those groups from public life. Milbank and Cillizza are simply the latest casualties in a war on dissent. Not just political dissent, but dissent against the entire idea that everything you think, do, and say must meet the approval of social activists. Organizations like Action and the Media know that media outlets will bow to even the slightest pressure, and because it works, have found a weapon against free speech.

An old saying goes, 'Beware of gods who do not laugh.' We should be wary of the humorless, especially if they have a naked political or social agenda. Organizations like Action and the Media, who claims to represent all women everywhere, do not have any basis for demanding apologies for satire not aimed directly at them. Media outlets should not bow to their pressure, especially when it comes to something as inane as a bad joke. Perhaps 'Mouthpiece Theater' was offensive, ignorant, and boorish. In that case, the only person who warrants an apology is the person who was the target of the joke, and I have yet to hear Mrs. Clinton ask for one.

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Michael Kleen's picture
Columns on STR: 36

Michael Kleen is the Editor-in-Chief of Untimely Meditations, publisher of Black Oak Presents, and proprietor of Black Oak Media. He holds a M.A. in History and a M.S. in Education, and is the author of Statism and its Discontents, a collection of columns on the topics of Statism, liberty, and their conflict. His columns have appeared in a variety of publications and websites, including Strike-the-Root.